Friday, 28 March 2008

Pile o' Shame - Part 1!

Aidan over at A Dribble of Ink came up with the amusing idea of revealing what he calls his 'Pile o' Shame'.

In his own words: "That secret pile of novels, so very well regarded by the literary world, sitting in a dark corner of [your] house, sadly neglected despite assurances by so many others that “you’ve got to read them!” It’s a secret Pile ‘o Shame that haunts readers, always calling out longingly to be conquered but always growing bigger."

The Pile o' Shame is a rather embarrassing reflection of the gaps in your genre knowledge, and is nothing to boast about.

So I thought I'd go ahead and join the fun by revealing mine. Admittedly, the pile is far too large to include all authors and books in one post, so I'll start by looking at three of the most glaring (in my opinion) holes in my genre reading.

So, here's my Pile 'o Shame - Part 1!

H. P. Lovecraft

While I'm a fantasy kid at heart, horror has always fascinated me. I can remember the moment it first grabbed me; I was at a friend's house and we watched Romero's Creepshow, a film consisting of five individual stories. The one that for some reason struck a chord with me was 'Father's Day' in which an irritable old sod repeatedly demanded his cake, only to be shut up by his daughter who caved his skull in with an ashtray.

A while later, she's lying next to his grave, enjoying the serenity of the cemetery.Then comes the classic moment when she murmurs, "So peaceful." A second later a decayed hand bursts from the earth, and her father drags himself out of his grave, screeching "I want my cake!" And then strangles her. There's just something about a zombie demanding his cake that just stayed with me...

Anyway, to the point. There's no denying that Lovecraft looms like a colossus over the horror genre; so many authors - both those working in the sub-genre and many without - have expressed their admiration for him, such as Stephen King, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. Lovecraftian themes and elements are prevalent in so many different art forms, from movies to books to video games.

Yet I've only ever read one story by Lovecraft - Herbert West: Reanimator - which allegedly does not even rate anywhere near his best work. Must read more...

Michael Moorcock

An author that frequently pops up when readers discuss the most influential fantasy authors writing in the genre. If you read John Marco's character of the week contribution, then you'll know he's a fan.

Best known for his character Elric of Melniboné, Moorcock allegedly wrote the Elric novels as a direct response to what he perceived as common fantasy tropes that proliferated the genre after the success of Tolkien (whose work Moorcock has derided). He's apparently not a fan of H. P. Lovecraft either.

As far as I understand, Moorcock's Elric stories mix magic and adventure with deeper themes, moving away from the idea of fantasy being purely escapism.

He also has a considerable haul of awards, which simply makes it all the more embarrassing that I've never read any of his work. Still, I've just picked up a volume of Elric stories, so hopefully that will be remedied in the near future...

Fritz Leiber

Yet another legend of the fantasy genre whose work I have utterly failed to read.

I mentioned above that H. P. Lovecraft influenced many writers and Leiber is meant to be one of them. He wrote plenty of acclaimed horror stories, however it is his fantasy novels featuring the characters Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser that proved to be his most popular work.

Leiber effectively created the 'sword and sorcery' sub-genre, and while today such a term conjures images of muscle-bound warriors and the infamous 'chicks in chainmail', just think how exciting and exotic these sort of stories would have seemed in 1939, when Leiber's first story featuring the adventuring duo was published.

Many of the books and games I read and played in my younger years were directly influenced by sword and sorcery and dungeons and dragons, and so therefore the sub-genre has left its mark on me (even if I don't tend to read many such works these days). It's therefore kind of ironic that I've neglected to read the works that gave birth to the whole sword and sorcery sub-genre.

Guess I'll have to rectify that as well.

Check out Aidan's own Pile o' Shame here:


Aidan Moher said...

Glad to see you getting in on the fun! I've read a depressingly small amount of the "classics", also. Though that should probably be saved for another edition of my pile.

A Dribble of Ink

J.G. Thomas said...

No, thanks for letting me join in the fun!

With the likes of Martin and Erikson around these days, I doubt we're alone in having neglected many of the fantasy classics.